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McNally opens the 1971 season with a win for the Orioles

Another fun chunk from my upcoming book, “The Dave McNally Story.” I hope to have a rough draft finished sometime this summer and then seek a publisher. If no publisher bites, I’ll self-publish again. (Moving to the McNally newsletter)


1971, Dave's eleventh full year as a professional baseball player, began on a high note. Orioles' manager Earl Weaver tabbed him as the opening day pitcher on April 7, 1971, as Baltimore began defense of its American League and World series titles. (Billings Gazette, April 7, 1971)

The Washington Senators visited Baltimore's Memorial Stadium for the opener, and Dave was wary of one player in particular in the Senators' lineup. That was hard-hitting outfielder/first baseman Frank Howard, a consistent nemesis for McNally. Howard ended his major league career with 382 home runs, and he bagged 13 of them against McNally. That was far more than any other pitcher yielded to Howard; Bob Hendley was next with eight given up, followed by seven pitchers who yielded six homers apiece to Howard. That group included McNally plus teammate Mike Cuellar.

Later in 1971, McNally shared his plan for pitching to Hondo, as Howard was nicknamed, with Baltimore Sun beat writer Phil Jackman. (Baltimore Evening Sun, July 7, 1971)

“It's called (the) ‘no battle plan,’ ” McNally said. “I decided a long time ago to just rear back and throw. He has hit everything I’ve thrown, no matter where I've thrown it, so why not just hope for the best?”

Howard proved relatively harmless to Dave and the Orioles in the 1971 opener. Frank Robinson sliced a double to right field to break a fifth-inning tie and boost the Orioles to a 3-2 win over the Senators. Dave got the win after a rocky start; he retired Elliott Maddox with the bases loaded to snuff a first-inning threat and gave up Washington's two runs in the third on four consecutive two-out hits. (Billings Gazette, April 8, 1971)

Howard, Mike Epstein and Joe Foy singled to bring in one run, and Maddux singled home another run before McNally retired Paul Casanova. Washington collected nine hits off McNally, who still was able to run his lifetime record against the Senators to 20-4. The April 1971 win was his thirteenth against Washington against one loss since the start of the 1968 season. It also was Baltimore's 12th straight win in regular-season play, including an 11-game win streak at the end of the 1970 Season. Baltimore owned a 19-1 record, counting the playoffs and the World series, since its last regular-season loss in 1970,

After the win in front of a home crowd of 35,000, Dave took the game in stride as a “typical” outing. “I guess it means not too exciting, A few line drives were caught … a couple of hits by me.” (Baltimore Sun, April 8, 1971)

Earl Weaver was more effusive,

“I thought he had a great fastball. He should have had a shutout.” It was, the Orioles' skipper said, “the best he's pitched all spring.”

Elrod Hendricks, who caught for the Orioles that day, was asked what the ace left-hander threw that day besides fastballs. Did eight years experience in the big leagues count as an answer?

“That's about it, Dave seemed to get awfully tired around the fifth inning, then he came on strong.”

A horde of Washington base runners could have spelled trouble for Dave, but his famed control came through when needed. Told that his “corner clipping” was at its best, Dave said, “Actually, I don't know how I should take that description, although I notice it's always said after a victory.”

McNally told reporters he had “a good, running fastball” and had to sweat out just one anxious moment. That came in the fifth when Howard hammered the ball.

“He hit an inside slider, and I figured they'd have to order a new scoreboard when it left the bat.” The ball seemed to soar 60 stories before the wind caught it, allowing center fielder Paul Blair to settle underneath the ball and catch it.

The Senators’ nine hits represented represented "a pretty good day” of pitching for McNally. He said an arm problem wasn’t over, but it wasn't bothering him.

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Jamie Larson